It’s no exaggeration to say that Leighton Jones has seen it all. The Emergency Services Director for the Eastern Massachusetts Region of the American Red Cross served at Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 attacks. He has been involved in responses to catastrophic floods and hurricanes. Most recently, disaster struck home when Jones, who oversees services programs for 190 towns and cities in the Bay State, found himself in charge of relief efforts in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
One of his responsibilities was to set up a family assistance center in conjunction with a few other agencies, including the FBI. The mood, as you can imagine in the wake of a mass trauma event, was grim. This was not business as usual.
But after one of several strategy meetings to discuss ways to support those people most affected, Mr. Jones came back to his own headquarters “a different person, with a different posture,” says Kat Powers, the American Red Cross’s Director of Communications for Eastern Massachusetts. He seemed just a bit less down.
“What happened?” Ms. Powers asked him.
“I met Lily,” he said.
Lily, a miniature appaloosa horse, is a therapy animal who, along with several dogs, had been brought by Tufts Paws for People participants to provide a little comfort to those in the throes of the disaster. Dressed in a star-spangled harness, she walked up to people, including Mr. Jones, and kissed them. How could your heart not give way, even for a little while?
The experience led Mr. Jones to invite Tufts’s therapy animals to the Red Cross’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that had been on virtual lockdown just days earlier when the younger of the two bombing suspects was still on the loose. The horse, dogs, and other animals also went to visit doctors and nurses who had been dealing with amputees and other victims; people who had gathered for memorials; and others affected by the bombings. All felt some respite, some sense of relief. Says Mr. Jones of his own organization’s experience, “the presence of the animals at the Red Cross provided a moment of levity and refocus during a week that was extremely stressful for my team,” adding, “I am a dog owner, but my hours managing the Red Cross following the Marathon bombings had resulted in little time at home with my own dog.”
As a dog lover, you’re no doubt heartened but probably not surprised by the response. You’ve already experienced firsthand the solace and sense of connectedness a faithful pet can offer just when things couldn’t seem any worse.
Did you know that some dogs spend their lives providing “therapy” to those who need their spirits lifted? And they do it happily, enjoying their calling. Might your dog make a good four-legged social worker who can brighten people’s lives, not just in the wake of disaster but also in, for instance, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other settings? To find out, read the article that begins on page 7.
Happy tails to you,